Friday, October 29, 2010

Bald Eagle Takes Off

The VINS Wildlife Services team enjoyed a huge success yesterday, releasing a juvenile bald eagle from rehabilitation after the bird was shot back in September.

See news coverage of the bald eagle's release:

While we are always proud to see an injured bird we treat recover and fly off into the wild, the rarity of eagles as patients here at VINS combined with the unfortunate circumstances of his injury made his
comeback all the more spectacular.

The eagle, which came into our care
about 2 months ago, recovered from a fractured wing after being shot with a shotgun in Troy, VT. Shooting eagles is, of course, completely illegal, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is leading an investigation into the matter with the aid of Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

The eagle was a wonderful patient, who dutifully ate his food each day and took to flying as soon as we moved him into his flight cage. The fracture in his wing -- now completely healed -- has not affected the eagle's flight ability, which is key to survival for a raptor.

Read more about our eagle and his care here, here, and here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Day in the Life of an Ed Intern

By Katie Christman
VINS Education Intern

I’m typing this from my cubicle with a recycled corn husk desk, books on birds scattered everywhere and owl pellets to my left. From my window at VINS, I have the best view from any cubicle space that I have ever had. The meadow, full of asters, faded goldenrod and grasses, is a rolling sea of color in the wind.

I’ve only been here for about one month, but I’ve already fallen into the daily work routine. I have to tell you, though, as an education intern I don’t view what I do as “work.” What I "do" is a learning experience that not only enriches the lives of the people (and birds) that live and visit here, but greatly enriches my life, as well. This daily routine is not always routine, and is often full of surprises, new experiences and the excitement that bubbles from not just the staff members here, but from the visitors and the birds!

As an education intern, I work with our educational birds, presenting programs to the public. Some days are full of visitors from abroad intrigued about our local birds, while other visitors interested in Vermont’s autumn foliage decide to drop by our nature center. You’ll rarely find a day that our education harris’s hawk doesn’t like to chase his fake rabbit lure or that our education turkey vulture doesn’t like to be out basking in the sun. And if meet our great horned owl, you might get a chance to listen to him call to a wild great horned owl that often visits the woods at VINS.

If you’ve never been to VINS, I encourage you to come and take a look. Come and see what I am lucky enough to see every day -- and expect the unexpected.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fierce Predator of the Night

When people first see a saw-whet owl, their initial reaction is usually an exaggerated "awwwww," similar to how one might respond to seeing a fuzzy kitten playing with a ball of yarn. There's no doubt about it: saw-whets are adorable. Watch a video of this owl!

But while these owls are tiny in stature, they have all the same characteristics of the big guys, like great-horned owls and great gray owls. Saw-whets have the disc-shaped face (to funnel sound into their big ears), large, all-seeing eyes, and silent flight. Their beaks and talons may be minuscule next to those of a great-horned, but they can still hunt with the best of them, capturing mice, vole and other critters roaming the night.

The VINS Wildlife Services department recently received a saw-whet owl into care. The owl, found by a local woman in her garden, sustained a fracture in his left wing. We suspect the owl was struck by a car, or perhaps temporarily caught in the garden fence. The wing is currently wrapped to allow time for the bones to grow back together. See our video of this adorable (but fierce!) hunter of the night. Listen to him as he claps his beak. Owls clap their beaks open and shut to appear threatening. When the great-horned owls do it, it's quite intimidating. When the saw-whets do it, it's just darn cute.

In the photos above, the saw-whet is taken out of his enclosure to be weighed by wildlife keeper Sara Eisenhauer.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Moving Right Along

The bald eagle currently in our care after being shot with a shotgun is one step closer to the possibility of returning to the wild. See a video of the eagle being released into our flight cage.

On Friday, we moved the eagle from his indoor enclosure into our large, outdoor flight cage. The fracture site in his right wing has completely healed, and he's due for some exercise an
d fresh air. There he will exercise and regain his strength, and we'll be able to see how the shotgun blast may have altered his flight.

He took his first flight -- albeit a bit wobbly -- when Wildlife Services staff members released him from their arms into the enclosure. We were delighted to see this large raptor spread his wings and take flight with a few powerful flaps. See for yourself in our video! In the photos below, the eagle is released into the flight cage by VINS Wildlife Services staff members.

Read more about this eagle's story here and here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Fine Balance: Weighing an Eagle

Weighing a wild bird can be a challenge, but it is an important way for rehabilitators to monitor a bird's health. We can see if she's losing weight (which may indicate the bird is not eating enough, or has internal parasites), or if she's gaining too much weight by eating too much. Watch a video of VINS staff weighing a bald eagle.

Birds must be calm enough to lay perfectly still on the scale so you can get an accurate reading. The handler must be able to completely let go of the bird and trust that the bird will lie still at least long enough to get a reading on the weight.

Weighing raptors presents a special challenge. Not only do you have to calm the bird (usually by covering their head), but you've got to watch out for those knife-like talons, which can really get to thrashing!

One of our newest patients is so large, he must be weighed on a special scale. Luckily, calming this giant is made so much easier by using a leather hood for his head. Once we tie that hood on, the eagle becomes so calm, he falls asleep! Imagine that: a powerful bald eagle asleep like a babe in my arms. Once he's in his relaxed state, laying him down on the scale is a cinch. See for yourself in our video of this bald eagle's weighing.

Our bald eagle's weight is spot-on. We weigh him about twice a week to keep tabs on him. He's eating well and will be moved into our flight cage soon. Read more about this special patient here.

Look For It Now: Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is a gem of a tree. The unique petal structure of the flowers and explosive pod-like fruits are only part of the shrub's allure. Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is so special because it is the last woody plant to flower, blossoming fully once the tree has dropped all its leaves. When the rest of the forest's flowers and trees have dulled to brown, you can count on witch hazel to brighten the autumn woods.

Witch hazel is a small deciduous tree with coarsely-toothed, alternating green leaves in the summer. The flowers, blooming now through November, are spider-like and mostly yellow, with four petals that grow in clusters. The fruit is a seed capsule that will shoot out seeds up to 20 feet, giving witch hazel the alternate name of snapping hazel.

Witch hazel has medicinal properties and is used in homeopathic form (under the name Hamamelis) by the VINS Wildlife Services department to treat internal bleeding in wild birds.

Fall is here and the witch hazel is blossoming: head outside and look for it now! Photo by Jared Clark.